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Thursday, 19 January 2017

Are American Jews Shifting Their Political Affiliation?

“F– – – the Jews, they don’t vote for us anyway.”

The second part of this statement—uttered in 1992 by James Baker, then the Republican secretary of state—was as accurate as the first part was insulting. Jews are indeed overwhelmingly supportive of the Democratic party, and their record in this respect is unbroken all the way back to the early decades of the 20th century. To this day, and despite the party’s growing coldness toward the state of Israel—and the Republicans’ contrasting warmth—American Jews have barely budged from their Democratic allegiances, most recently giving fully 70 percent of their vote to Hillary Clinton in November’s presidential election, just about the same number they gave to Barack Obama in 2012 (though below the 78 percent they gave him in 2008).


Mitchell Rocklin is a resident research fellow at the Tikvah Fund.

How long can this continue? Much ink has been spilled over that question. Only lately, though, has the glimmer of an answer, however partial, begun to manifest itself. Especially in the aftermath of November’s presidential balloting, a number of observers pointed to the voting patterns of, specifically, Orthodox Jews—a group that, according to the Pew Report, identifies with Republicans over Democrats by a margin of two to one. It is true that Orthodox Jews constitute a mere 10 percent of the American Jewish population, but because of their significantly higher fertility, especially when contrasted with the below-replacement birthrates among other, larger sectors of the community, they are on pace to double their share every generation.

Could these Jews be the harbingers of a political realignment? Now that detailed results of last November’s balloting are available, it’s worth taking a closer look both at how the Orthodox voted in 2016 and at what a consistent trend that began early in this century might suggest for future elections, presidential and otherwise.


For a varietyof religious and sociological reasons, Orthodox Jews tend to live in highly concentrated areas. Since local and state governments make voting data available for each and every precinct, we can assess actual voting patterns with a high degree of confidence. This approach proves far more reliable than exit polls. Indeed, what a careful examination reveals is that those polls were no more accurate about the Orthodox vote than about the national vote altogether.

For our purposes, I’ve divided predominantly Orthodox precincts into three categories: Modern Orthodox, ḥaredi, and an intermediate group whose members tend (like the Modern Orthodox) to work in professions but value secular education mainly for the sake of economic advancement and seek (like the Ḥaredim) to limit their contact with the surrounding culture.

To begin with the Modern Orthodox: communities of Modern Orthodox Jews in Boca Raton, FL, Teaneck and Englewood, NJ, Chicago, IL, and the “Five Towns” to the southeast of New York City have followed a closely related pattern. Between the 2000 and 2004 elections, all saw significant rightward shifts, a pattern that held steady or grew more pronounced through the 2012 contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. The November 2016 race produced a falloff in the Republican vote in these precincts, but not enough of one to reverse the overall trend since 2004. The only exception among the communities I’ve surveyed is Beachwood, OH, which, consistent with its habit in previous elections, broke heavily in favor of the Democratic candidate: a discrepancy that might be traced to the fact that the Orthodox population in these suburban Cleveland precincts is less concentrated than elsewhere.

The strongest and most resilient shift to the Republican column is to be discerned not among the Modern Orthodox but in the ḥaredi neighborhoods of Brooklyn’s Borough Park, Flatbush, and Williamsburg sections, Monsey, NY, and Wickliffe, OH. In these communities’ most concentrated Orthodox precincts, Trump outpolled Clinton by, respectively, 89 to 7 percent, 87 to 10 percent, 68 to 28 percent, 94 to 4 percent, and 56 to 36 percent. Ocean County, NJ has not yet released its numbers by precinct, but we can extrapolate from the overall results in Lakewood Township, whose Orthodox Jews supported Trump by about a 9:1 ratio.

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